EN BANC

 

G.R. No. 174153  -  RAUL L. LAMBINO and ERICO B. AUMENTADO, together with 6,327,952 REGISTERED VOTERS, Petitioners,  -  versus  -  The COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Respondent.

 

 

G.R. No. 174299  -  MAR-LEN ABIGAIL BINAY, SOFRONIO UNTALAN, JR., and RENE A. Q. SAGUISAG, Petitioners  -  versus  -  COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Represented by Chairman BENJAMIN S. ABALOS, JR., and Commissioners RESURRECCION Z. BORRA, FLORENTINO A. TUASON, JR., ROMEO A. BRAWNER, RENE V. SARMIENTO, and John Doe and Peter Doe, Respondents.

 

 

                                                          Promulgated: October 25, 2006

 

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S E PA R A T E    O P I N I O N

 

 

VELASCO, JR., J.:

 

         

Introduction

 

      The fate of every democracy, of every government based on the Sovereignty of the people, depends on the choices it makes between these opposite principles: absolute power on the one hand, and on the other the restraints of legality and the authority of tradition.

                                                                       

—John Acton

 

         

In this thorny matter of the people’s initiative, I concur with the erudite and highly persuasive opinion of Justice Reynato S. Puno upholding the people’s initiative and raise some points of my own. 

 

          The issue of the people’s power to propose amendments to the Constitution was once discussed in the landmark case of Santiago v. COMELEC.[1]  Almost a decade later, the issue is once again before the Court, and I firmly believe it is time to reevaluate the pronouncements made in that case.

 

          The issue of Charter Change is one that has sharply divided the nation, and its proponents and opponents will understandably take all measures to advance their position and defeat that of their opponents.  The wisdom or folly of Charter Change does not concern the Court.  The only thing that the Court must review is the validity of the present step taken by the proponents of Charter Change, which is the People’s Initiative, as set down in Article XVII, Sec. 2 of the 1987 Constitution:

 

      Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein.  No amendment under this section shall be authorized within five years following the ratification of this Constitution nor oftener than once every five years thereafter.

 

       The Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of this right.

 

 

In the Santiago case, the Court discussed whether the second paragraph of that section had been fulfilled.  It determined that Congress had not provided for the implementation of the exercise of the people’s initiative, when it held that Republic Act No. 6735, or “The Initiative and Referendum Act,” was “inadequate to cover the system of initiative on amendments to the Constitution, and to have failed to provide sufficient standard for subordinate legislation.”[2]

 

With all due respect to those Justices who made that declaration, I must disagree.

 

Republic Act No. 6735 is the proper law for proposing constitutional amendments and it should not have been considered inadequate.

 

The decision in Santiago focused on what it perceived to be fatal flaws in the drafting of the law, in the failings of the way the law was structured, to come to the conclusion that the law was inadequate.  The Court itself recognized the legislators’ intent, but disregarded this intent.  The law was found wanting.  The Court then saw the inclusion of the Constitution in RA 6735 as an afterthought.  However, it was included, and it should not be excluded by the Court via a strained analysis of the law.    The difficult construction of the law should not serve to frustrate the intent of the framers of the 1987 Constitution: to give the people the power to propose amendments as they saw fit.  It is a basic precept in statutory construction that the intent of the legislature is the controlling factor in the interpretation of a statute.[3]  The intent of the legislature was clear, and yet RA 6735 was declared inadequate. It was not specifically struck down or declared unconstitutional, merely incomplete.  The Court focused on what RA 6735 was not, and lost sight of what RA 6735 was.

 

It is my view that the reading of RA 6735 in Santiago should have been more flexible.  It is also a basic precept of statutory construction that statutes should be construed not so much according to the letter that killeth but in line with the purpose for which they have been enacted.[4]  The reading of the law should not have been with the view of its defeat, but with the goal of upholding it, especially with its avowed noble purpose.

 

Congress has done its part in empowering the people themselves to propose amendments to the Constitution, in accordance with the Constitution itself.  It should not be the Supreme Court that stifles the people, and lets their cries for change go unheard, especially when the Constitution itself grants them that power.

 

The court’s ruling in the Santiago case does not bar the present petition because the fallo in the Santiago case is limited to the Delfin petition.

 

 

The Santiago case involved a petition for prohibition filed by Miriam Defensor-Santiago, et al., against the COMELEC, et al., which  sought to prevent the COMELEC from entertaining the “Petition to Amend the Constitution, to Lift Term Limits of Elective Officials, by People’s Initiative” filed by Atty. Jesus Delfin.  In the body of the judgment, the Court made the following conclusion, viz:

 

            This petition must then be granted and the COMELEC should be permanently enjoined from entertaining or taking cognizance of any petition or initiative on amendments on the Constitution until a sufficient law shall have been validly enacted to provide for the implementation of the system (emphasis supplied).

 

We feel, however, that the system of initiative to propose amendments to the Constitution should no longer be kept in the cold; it should be given flesh and blood, energy and strength.  Congress should not tarry any longer in complying with the constitutional mandate to provide for the implementation of the right of the people under that system. 

 

 

          In the said case, the Court’s fallo states as follows:

 

 

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered

 

a) GRANTING the instant petition;

 

b) DECLARING R. A. 6735 inadequate to cover the system of initiative on amendments to the Constitution, and to have failed to provide sufficient standard for subordinate legislation;

 

c) DECLARING void those parts of Resolutions No. 2300 of the Commission on Elections prescribing rules and regulations on the conduct of initiative or amendments to the Constitution; and

 

d) ORDERING the Commission on Elections to forthwith DISMISS the DELFIN petition (UND-96-037).

 

       The Temporary Restraining Order issued on 18 December 1996 is made permanent as against the Commission on Elections, but is LIFTED against private respondents. 

 

       Resolution on the matter of contempt is hereby reserved.

 

       SO ORDERED.

 

 

          The question now is if the ruling in Santiago is decisive in this case.  It is elementary that when there is conflict between the dispositive portion or fallo of the decision and the opinion of the court contained in the text or body of the judgment, the former prevails over the latter.  An order of execution is based on the disposition, not on the body, of the decision.[5]  The dispositive portion is its decisive resolution; thus, it is the subject of execution.  The other parts of the decision may be resorted to in order to determine the ratio decidendi for the disposition.  Where there is conflict between the dispositive part and the opinion of the court contained in the text or body of the decision, the former must prevail over the latter on the theory that the dispositive portion is the final order, while the opinion is merely a statement ordering nothing.  Hence, the execution must conform with that which is ordained or decreed in the dispositive portion of the decision.[6] 

 

          A judgment must be distinguished from an opinion.  The latter is an informal expression of the views of the court and cannot prevail against its final order or decision.  While the two may be combined in one instrument, the opinion forms no part of the judgment.  So there is a distinction between the findings and conclusions of a court and its Judgment. While they may constitute its decision and amount to the rendition of a judgment, they are not the judgment itself.  It is not infrequent that the grounds of a decision fail to reflect the exact views of the court, especially those of concurring justices in a collegiate court.  We often encounter in judicial decisions lapses, findings, loose statements and generalities which do not bear on the issues or are apparently opposed to the otherwise sound and considered result reached by the court as expressed in the dispositive part, so called, of the decision.[7]  

 

          Applying the foregoing argument to the Santiago case, it immediately becomes apparent that the disposition in the latter case categorically made permanent the December 18, 1996 Temporary Restraining Order issued against the COMELEC in the Delfin petition but did NOT formally incorporate therein any directive PERMANENTLY enjoining the COMELEC “from entertaining or taking cognizance of any petition for initiative on amendments.”  Undeniably, the perpetual proscription against the COMELEC from assuming jurisdiction over any other petition on Charter Change through a People’s Initiative is just a conclusion and cannot bind the poll body, for such unending ban would trench on its constitutional power to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall under Section 2, Article IX of the Constitution.  RA 6735 gave the COMELEC the jurisdiction to determine the sufficiency of the petition on the initiative under Section 8, Rule 11 and the form of the petition under Section 3, Rule I; hence, it cannot be barred from entertaining any such petition. 

 

In sum, the COMELEC still retains its jurisdiction to take cognizance of any petition on initiative under RA 6735 and it can rule on the petition and its action can only be passed upon by the Court when the same is elevated through a petition for certiorari.  COMELEC cannot be barred from acting on said petitions since jurisdiction is conferred by law (RA 6735) and said law has not been declared unconstitutional and hence still valid though considered inadequate in the Santiago case.

 

          Respondents, however, claim that the Court in the subsequent case of PIRMA v. Commission on Elections[8] confirmed the statement of the Court in the Santiago case that the COMELEC was “permanently enjoined from entertaining or taking cognizance of any petition for initiative on amendments.”  Much reliance is placed on the ruling contained in a Minute Resolution which reads:

 

 

      The Court ruled, first, by a unanimous vote, that no grave abuse of Discretion could be attributed to the public respondent COMELEC in Dismissing the petition filed by PIRMA therein, it appearing that it only Complied with the DISPOSITIONS in the Decision of this Court in G.R. No. 127325, promulgated on March 19, 1997, and its Resolution of June 10, 1997.

 

 

 

Take note that the Court specifically referred to “dispositions” in the March 19, 1997 Decision.  To reiterate, the dispositions in the Santiago case decision refer specifically to the December 18, 1996 TRO being made permanent against the COMELEC but do not pertain to a permanent injunction against any other petition for initiative on amendment.  Thus, what was confirmed or even affirmed  in the Minute Resolution in the PIRMA case pertains solely to the December 18, 1996 TRO which became permanent, the declaration of the inadequacy of RA 6735, and the annulment of certain parts of Resolution No. 2300 but certainly not the alleged perpetual injunction against the initiative petition.  Thus, the resolution in the PIRMA case cannot be considered res judicata to the Lambino petition. 

 

Amendment or Revision

 

          One last matter to be considered is whether the petition may be allowed under RA 6735, since only amendments to the Constitution may be the subject of a people’s initiative.

 

          The Lambino petition cannot be considered an act of revising the Constitution; it is merely an attempt to amend it.  The term amendment has to be liberally construed so as to effectuate the people’s efforts to amend the Constitution.

          As an eminent constitutionalist, Dean Vicente G. Sinco,[9] explained: 

 

Strictly speaking, the act of revising a constitution involves alterations of different portions of the entire document.  It may result in the rewriting either of the whole constitution, or the greater portion of it, or perhaps only some of its important provisions.  But whatever results the revision may produce, the factor that characterizes it as an act of revision is the original intention and plan authorized to be carried out.  That intention and plan must contemplate a consideration of all the provisions of the constitution to determine which one should be altered or suppressed or whether the whole document should be replaced with an entirely new one.

 

The act of amending a constitution, on the other hand, envisages a change of only a few specific provisions.  The intention of an act to amend is not to consider the advisability of changing the entire constitution or of considering that possibility.  The intention rather is to improve specific parts of the existing constitution or to add to it provisions deemed essential on account of changed conditions or to suppress portions of it that seem obsolete, or dangerous, or misleading in their effect.

 

 

          In this case, the Lambino petition is not concerned with rewriting the entire Constitution. It was never its intention to revise the whole Constitution.  It merely concerns itself with amending a few provisions in our fundamental charter.  

          When there are gray areas in legislation, especially in matters that pertain to the sovereign people’s political rights, courts must lean more towards a more liberal interpretation favoring the people’s right to exercise their sovereign power.

 

Conclusion

 

          Sovereignty residing in the people is the highest form of sovereignty and thus deserves the highest respect even from the courts.  It is not something that can be overruled, set aside, ignored or stomped over by whatever amount of technicalities, blurred or vague provisions of the law.  

 

          As I find RA 6735 to be adequate as the implementing law for the People’s Initiative, I vote to grant the petition in G.R. No. 174153 and dismiss the petition in G.R. No. 174299.  The Amended Petition for Initiative filed by petitioners Raul L. Lambino and Erico B. Aumentado should be remanded to the COMELEC for determination whether or not the petition is sufficient under RA 6735, and if the petition is sufficient, to schedule and hold the necessary plebiscite as required by RA 6735.

 

          It is time to let the people’s voice be heard once again as it was twenty years ago.  And should this voice demand a change in the Constitution, the Supreme Court should not be one to stand in its way.

 

 

                                                          PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

                                                                           Associate Justice

         

 



[1] G.R. No. 127535, March 19, 1997, 270 SCRA 106.

[2] Id.

[3] Commission on Audit of the Province of Cebu v. Province of Cebu, G.R. No. 141386, November 29, 2001, 371 SCRA 196, 202.

[4] United Harbor Pilots’ Association of the Philippines, Inc. v. Association of International Shipping Lines, Inc., G.R. No. 133763, November 13, 2002, 391 SCRA 522, 533.

[5] PH Credit Corporation v. Court of Appeals and Carlos M. Farrales, G. R. No. 109648, November 22, 2001, 370 SCRA 155, 166-167.

[6] Id.

[7] Florentino v. Rivera, et al., G. R. No. 167968, January 23, 2006, 479 SCRA 522, 529.

[8] G.R. No. 129754, September 23, 1997.

[9] V. Sinco, Philippine Political Law, Principles and Concept 46 (1962).